New York’s Greenspon gallery was one of many prepared to host an opening to kick off the fall season, but on Wednesday night Amy Greenspon, the gallery’s owner, changed course and announced there would be neither an opening nor a new show.
After receiving what she described as threats and criticism from colleagues in the art world, Greenspon canceled a two-person show that was set to feature Darja Bajagić and Boyd Rice. At issue are claims that Rice, an artist and musician active in the avant-garde noise scene, is a Nazi sympathizer, a fascist, an anti-Semite, a misogynist, and a racist. The gallery first declared the cancellation of the show’s opening in an email announcement on Wednesday, and in an interview today Greenspon said the show has been pulled entirely.
Many of the allegations against Rice can be traced back to a photograph that appeared in 1989 in Sassy Magazine, a teen periodical aimed at people interested in alternative music and culture. In the magazine image, Rice holds a switchblade alongside Bob Heick, the leader of the white supremacist group American Front.
Rice continued to generate controversy when he appeared on a public-access cable TV show with the white supremacist Tom Metzger, and his concerts have sometimes met with protests. In 2013, a tour by the band Cold Cave drew Antifa protests when Rice appeared as the opener, with shows in Philadelphia and Boston shut down.
“People see the word ‘Nazi’ or ‘racist,’ and they get emotional,” Rice said in a phone interview with ARTnews. “The people saying these things don’t really know about me, and aren’t familiar with the stuff I’ve done.” He said he knew Heick, the American Front leader, for “15 minutes” years ago, but was never part of his organization. (In past interviews, Rice has also denied allegations that he is a Nazi.)
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Greenspon said she understands the concerns of the protestors. The calls for her to cancel the show began, she said, after an email was sent on Monday to an artist-resource listserv called Invisible Dole with the subject line “WARNING: neo-nazi showing in nyc.”
In the gallery statement circulated on Wednesday, Greenspon wrote, “Given the issues this show and these artists raise, we will try to use this episode to consider the various meanings and histories of provocation and dissent in art. As contexts, boundaries and political realities continue to transform, so do the the codes of what can and cannot be accepted. I deeply regret my lack of oversight when I planned this exhibition, and I apologize to anyone the gallery may have offended when we sent out our email announcement.”
Rice said that Greenspon had received threats throughout the week from people who had learned of the exhibition. “They simply said to Amy, ‘I’m never speaking to you again. I’m never setting foot in your gallery again,’ ” Rice said. “They essentially said they were going to ruin her life, shut down her gallery. She was really upset.”
Works by Rice that were to be included in the show are black-and-white abstract paintingssimilar to ones that previously appeared in a solo show at Mitchell Algus Gallery (Greenspon’s onetime business partner) in New York in 2007. The paintings, the artist said, have “absolutely no political content.” They were to appear alongside works by Bajagić, who produced six paintings for the show, one of which focuses on a symbol that the artist said has been used by fascist groups in Greece but also fashion brands such as Versace.
In a phone conversation, Bajagić said her works focus on “the banality of evil.” She added that she and Rice, whose history she had known, offered to hold a roundtable discussion with some of the people criticizing the Greenspon gallery, to further explicate their work and its history. “We told Amy that we were open to having a dialogue yesterday evening, but she was so scared,” Bajagić said.
Asked about his reaction to the controversy, Rice said, “I’m not that upset. I’ve been dealing with controversy for four decades. To me, something like this is a win-win situation. If the show happens, it draws a lot more attention to it. If it’s cancelled, I look like I’m too dangerous for New York City.”
In any case, the gallery decided to call it off.